Friday, November 09, 2012

DOWN BY LAW: NYC PunkFunk '78-'84

Let's boogie to a collection of the greatest dance "hits" of what has been called the "No Wave" era of NYC music.  Late '70s/early '80s downtown Manhattan was bursting with alt-classical composers, free jazz, New Wave, performance art and, most notoriously, noise bands. Apart from downtown, hip-hop was getting started in the South Bronx and Queens and house music was growing. All of which would coalesce into the punk-funk (aka mutant disco) of the bands presented here. Never has "dance" music been so dark, noisy, and experimental. Unlike the earlier sexy funk of James Brown et al, this stuff is uptight, tense, full of punk's nervous energy. And if the disco they were playing uptown at Studio 54 was slick and glamorous, this music was low-budget, as dirty as a SoHo street corner.

Has there ever been a more inclusive music scene? Black, white, Puerto Rican; gay & straight; male, female, and undetermined; jazz, rock, avant-garde - everyone grooving together.  All you needed was a throbbing bass line and some cowbells and congas.

Most of what I know about the earlier New York Dolls/CBGB era I got from history. But this stuff, like the Suicide song featured here, I remember. Whilst visting my family back east, my cousins would take me to clubs like Area, Danceateria and yes, CBGBs (in the days when they didn't check IDs too carefully), I bought some of these records back in the day, I'd hear 'em on the radio. Bi-coastal rivalry meant that this music wasn't as acceptably cool as the hardcore punk scene raging around me in LA (remember Fear's "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones"?  A song I loved, by the way) - but I dug it. I hadn't heard some of these songs in ages, but they hold up really well - it helps that not much music has been made like this since (no one plays percussion anymore?), so it still sounds fresh and fun.

DOWN BY LAW: NYC PunkFunk '78-'84

1. Fab Five Freddy "Down By Law"
2. Liquid Liquid "Cavern" (Perhaps the biggest "hit" song of this genre, and, yep, where Melle Mel got the music for "White Lines")
3. ESG "Moody" (oft, and I'm talking oft sampled band of three sisters/sistahs)
4. The Del-Byzanteens "My Hands Are Yellow (From The Job That I Do)" (History remembers this band for featuring future filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, but they actually were pretty cool.)
5. The Bush Tetras "You Can't Be Funky"
6. Lizzy Mercier Descloux "Wawa"
7. Dog Eat Dog "Rollover"
8. Cristina "What's A Girl To Do"
9. Kid Creole & The Coconuts "There But For The Grace of God Go I"
10. Konk "Elephant" (Speaking of Jim Jarmusch, Richard Edson from this band would act in Jarmusch's film "Stranger Than Paradise," co-starring another downtown scenester, John Lurie of jazzers The Lounge Lizards)
11. The Work "Nearly Empty"
12. Pulsallama "The Devil Lives In My Husband's Body" (This very large all-girl band featured future actress and Bongwater member Ann Magnuson)
13. Material "Square Dance" (featuring future producer-to-the-stars Bill Laswell)
14. The Dance "Do Dada"
15. James White & The Blacks "Almost Black 1" (Some of James White/Black/Chance's band quit to form Defunkt)
16. Defunkt "Blues"
17. Ike Yard "Cherish 8" 
18. 8 Eyed Spy "Motor Oil Shanty" (singer, in the loosest sense of the word, Lydia Lunch was previously in notorious noise band Teenage Jesus and The Jerks)
19. Loose Joints "Pop Your Funk"   (featuring '80s NY avant-disco mastermind Athur Russell)
20. Suicide "I Remember"

This scene is not totally forgotten - there are some good books that cover it: "The Downtown Book," "New York Noise," "No Wave", all of which make the point that music was just one element of the downtown scene - painters, photographers, filmmakers, dancers, and performance artists all got thrown into the mix.  No one seemed to do just one thing. And they also point out the scene's downfall: rising real estate prices that made Manhattan living impossible for starving artists, AIDS, and the inevitable mainstream absorption.

Oh, and the expression 'down by law' meant that you were hip, street-wise.  As Grandmaster Flash's Furious Five once rapped: "New York New York, big city of dreams/but everything in New York ain't always what it seems/you might get fooled if you come from out of town/but I'm down by law and I know my way around."


Drum Taps said...

Wonderful mix. Thank you very much for posting.

Anonymous said...

How have I not heard of this stuff?!

Mr Fab said...

You are welcome, Mr Huddle! And don't feel bad, anon. The mainstream music world largely focuses on the mid-'70s CBGB era. Unless you talk with geezers who actually remember this period, you're just not gonna hear much about it.

Vertigo Mindwarp said...


Anonymous said...

I had no idea Kid Creole covered himself from the Material days. Hard to compare the completely different treatments, though I think I prefer Material's version, but Kid Creole live on SNL is pretty great
Portland, OR

Mr Fab said...

I remember Kid Creole's appearance on SNL - was my introduction to him. Thought he was great. Still don't understand why he never got bigger, had a hit.
re Kid Creole & Material: yeah, it was a pretty incestuous scene - Kid Creole produced (and largely co-wrote) Cristina's first album, Jim Sclavunos of 8 Eyed Spy and Richard Edson of Konk both played in Sonic Youth, Pat Irwin of 8 Eyed Spy, Jody Harris of James White's group the Contortions (aka The Blacks), and George Scott III of both bands started the Raybeats, etc, etc.

Dave B (@BuckyKatt) said...

Cool mix! Looking forward to listening to the whole thing. BTW, the Bush Tetras' 1989 album "Happy" was finally released this week (it's streaming online at Spinner this week: ). They are playing a show in NYC at Le Poisson Rouge on 11/29. Suicide was supposed to be on that bill as well, but the event page says they had to cancel due to illness.

Anonymous said...

unfortunately, mediafire has blocked this

Mr Fab said...

Thanks for altering me, anon - just put it up on divshare, hope that works.

Anonymous said...

You Are The Captain... She's loadin'. Thanks And All The Best To You And Yours!

AveC&9th said...

I recall the Bush Tetras as hot physically as well as musically, if my fading memory serves. Too many freaks!

Mr Fab said...

'Too Many CREEPS', you mean? (You can never have too many freaks!)

Cand9th said...

Right. Creeps it is. I stand corrected. Neurons fail to fire as agilely at this age.

Anonymous said...

Is this link still working?

Mr Fab said...

Link looks like its still working. Click on the title "DOWN BY LAW" after the 3rd paragraph, then where it says "DOWNLOAD NOW.